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Commentary: Protect your skin and notice changes in moles

By Dr. Burton L. Eisenberg

Categories: Cancer

​Wear sunscreen.

In Orange County, where the climate often feels like perpetual summer, this advice is simple but significant in preventing melanoma — the most dangerous of skin cancers.

But it is not the only method of defense.

Knowing the risk factors and prevention strategies can help protect your skin and lessen your risk of developing a skin cancer that accounts for 120,000 new diagnoses every year in the U.S.

UV light exposure is the most common, and most talked about, risk factor.

It takes just one childhood sunburn to double the possibility of being diagnosed with skin cancer as an adult. Melanoma has a latency period, often not showing up until decades after the damage has been done.

Applying sunscreen every two hours with at least SPF 30, wearing protective clothing and avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours can reduce the risk of developing melanoma.

Tanning beds are just as harmful, if not more so, because there is no protection from damaging UV light, so it's best to avoid them.

While a prototypical at-risk patient is described as someone who is light-skinned and burns easily, anyone who enjoys long beach days or lounging by the pool can be at risk.

Anybody can suffer skin damage, which is why it is important to be aware of changes to your body.

Two-thirds of melanomas develop from a pre-existing mole, so we encourage patients to know the ABCDEs of skin cancer — Asymmetry, changes to the Border, Color or Diameter, and any mole that's Evolving. These should be examined by a doctor.

While most melanomas are a result of environmental factors and unpredictable circumstances, family history can also play a role.

Those with immediate family members who had a melanoma diagnosis should be extra diligent in visiting a dermatologist. When detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is about 98%.

Although melanoma is the most dangerous of skin cancers, it is not a death sentence.

Early detection has rendered many melanomas curable, and new therapies are quite effective in treating patients with advanced melanoma.

Hoag Family Cancer Institute, in alliance with Keck Medicine of USC, is developing a comprehensive program to help patients fight melanoma.

A team of dermatologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists and nurse navigatorswork together to create a personalized care model for each patient, while physicians stay active in clinical research trials that are testing leading-edge ways to fight the disease.

Even with new advancements in science and ever-evolving treatment strategies, our patients remain the first line of defense in the fight against melanoma through body awareness, regular dermatological exams and, of course, plenty of sunscreen.

Dr. Burton Eisenberg is the executive medical director for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute.